Oct 15, 2008

Hot, Fast, & Easy

Whoa...wait a minute, I’m talking about food here. Did Google mislead you?

Last week’s recipe was all about home-style slow cooking. Let’s go in the opposite direction this week. I’d like to share my favorite recipe for when I need something fast and easy. This is a great thing to make during the summer when I don’t want to heat up the kitchen too much.

The original recipe can be found at Foodnetwork. I followed the recipe the first time I made it and thought it was somewhat lacking...one dimensional even. After experimenting, I found that adding Kalamata olives really perks this up and gives it some needed interest. I also changed the procedure a little bit to make it less putzy (for me anyway).

This is what you’ll need:
That’s my mise en place. Oh, we should talk about that... mise en place! No, not Ms. enPlace (although I could devote this post to talking about myself if you really wanted...but I’m thinking you’re not here for that). Mise en place is a French term that roughly means “everything in its place.” It is what you see all the cool TV chefs doing. You know, all their cute little bowls of pre-measured this-and-that lined up neatly, nicely waiting their turn to join in the fun. I have to confess that there was a time when I did not acknowledge “the meez.” Since then, I have learned the error of my ways. Once I became enlightened I was confused as to why an insanely organized person like me never embraced the concept in the first place. Weird.

I don’t take mise en place as far as the TV food stars do mainly because I don’t have a behind-the-scenes staff to clean up all those pesky extra dishes. I used to be the behind-the-scenes person and don’t need to relive that. I don’t usually premeasure things like spices, sugar, and flour into tiny bowls. But I do gather all of those items, as well as any pots, pans, and tools I need, and set them out on my counter before I begin. This really does make for a smooth-flowing cooking experience. You’ll never again burn your dinner because you had to dismantle your pantry looking for a stinkin’ can of chicken broth. (Disclaimer: dinners may be burned for other reasons. I cannot be held responsible.) You’ll never again get half-way through a recipe just to find that you are out of eggs. Mise en place makes sense!

Enough yammering...let’s get going.

* Make the chili oil ahead of time (night before) to speed things up.
* One recipe easily serves 5-6.
* Scroll down to see how you can turn this recipe into an inexpensive holiday gift.

Quick Fiery Pasta
from Ms. enPlace, adapted from FoodNetwork
1 pound spaghetti
½ c flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp lemon zest (about 2 medium lemons)
juice of 1 lemon½ c chili oil (recipe follows)
1 c pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
2/3 c grated Parmesan cheese
Variations: toss in grilled chicken or shrimp

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. While pasta cooks, combine parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, chili oil, and olives in a bowl or measuring cup. (Use a measuring cup to cut down on dirty dishes...you need it for the chili oil anyway!) Place cooked pasta in a large serving bowl. Pour chili oil mixture on top of pasta, throw in the Parmesan cheese (reserve a small amount for garnish), coarse salt, and red pepper flakes. Toss. Sprinkle more Parmesan cheese on top or on individual servings, if desired.

Chili Oil:
1 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes

Combine the oil and crushed red pepper flakes in a heavy small saucepan. Cook over low heat until a thermometer inserted into the oil registers 180 degrees F, or about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Transfer the oil and pepper flakes to a bottle or jar. Refrigerate up to 1 month.

*This is twice as much oil as what you’ll need for the pasta. Either cut the chili oil recipe in half, or use the remainder on grilled or sautéed chicken, shrimp, fresh steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, or anything your heart desires.

I love this recipe so much, a few years ago I made Christmas gifts based on it. Included in a gift basket were: the chili oil, packaged in a pretty bottle ($1 store!), spaghetti server, cheese grater, pot holders (all from the $1 store), a tiny crock of sea salt (salt and crock purchased separately at Bed Bath and Beyond), lemons, spaghetti, and the recipe. It was inexpensive and a big hit!

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